Jason Kidd and the NBA Playoffs go together. Like peanut butter and jelly. Like tires and fresh asphalt. Like blue sky and birds chirping in springtime. Like Jay Cutler and turnovers.
In other words, a long time has passed since Kidd sat out a postseason. In his sole season as a coach and in his final 17 seasons as a player, Kidd led his teams to the playoffs. The last time Kidd missed the postseason was back in 1995-96 when Kidd wanted the Dallas Mavericks to unbreak his Jim Jackson-broken heart (even if the story about the duo feuding over a famous singer is apocryphal)**. Since then, Kidd has piloted teams with championship aspirations deep into every spring.
For the sake of comparison, the three teenagers on the Bucks — Giannis Antetokounmpo, Jabari Parker, and Damien Inglis — were extremely tall one-year-olds toddling around in diapers the last time Kidd sat home.
This year it’s going to be a stretch for the Bucks to make the playoffs. No one really expects that outcome, nor is it the primary goal, given that the Bucks certainly aren’t winning the 2015 NBA title. So Kidd faces the challenge of building up a young roster, one which aspires to hang around for the playoffs even if it has no reasonable expectation of getting there.
If his words from Media Day are any indication, Kidd is already game-planning for a roster markedly different from the ones with which he is familiar — and he is already looking at the positive aspects of it.
“I think we can go a little bit longer in terms of practice,” Kidd noted. “When you have an older team you go through, principle-wise, what you need to get across and you get them off the floor. Here, we can spend a little more time on the floor, reviewing and going through things until we get it right.”
When posted with the ‘offense or defense’ question, Kidd gave the correct answer from the Book of Coach-Speak.
“We’re going to start with defense. You look at teams that have won on a consistent basis, they’re pretty good on the defensive end.”
He is, of course, correct — cliche or not. Per Basketball Reference, the Bucks yielded a league-worst 111.8 points per 100 possessions. If that stat remains unfixed, Milwaukee won’t even sniff the playoffs. There is much coaching for Kidd to do on that end, and his defense should play a much different style than Larry Drew‘s. Wednesday’s first preseason game should provide a glimpse into the approach he wants his Bucks to take.
In Brooklyn, Kidd and the Nets thrived when they switched to a more ball-hawking approach on the perimeter. They finished third-best in the NBA in the rate of turnovers forced, but it didn’t happen right away. They started the season with a 10-21 record and over that span they created 13.7 turnovers per game.
From then on, the turnovers and wins got a big bump. In the last 51 games of the season, the Nets went 34-17 and forced opponents into a staggering 15.9 turnovers per game.
So while the overriding aspect of the season is player development, one specific subgoal for Kidd is clear: he needs to coach Brandon Knight, Giannis Antetokounmpo, and his other young wings into being whirlwinds on the perimeter. Will it take time? Of course. Brooklyn had a roster full of veterans and it took a half of a season and some small-ball lineups to get things worked out. It may take a year or more in Milwaukee.
Specifically for Giannis, though, there is potential untapped, waiting to taught. With his length and nose for the ball — which was on display this summer in FIBA play — Giannis can be a difference maker is disrupting passing lanes.
On Media Day, the questions were directed at the other end. Could Giannis be the NBA’s first 6’11” point guard? Kidd didn’t hesitate from saying that he could direct the offense like one.
“We have an opportunity to have a long team, big team, however you want to look at it,” Kidd said. “At 6’11” you can kind of play him at the point in the sense of starting your offense, having an opportunity to make plays, but also being able to get to the basket. Being 6’11”, that’s a tough matchup for most people on the perimeter. For him, he can guard smaller guys. There’s nothing really that he can’t do. Only being 19, it’s just a matter of doing it on a consistent basis.”
Kidd’s job will be to mold these young players into a cohesive group. When he last missed the postseason, he too was a second-year player like Giannis. The ’95-96 Mavericks, much like this year’s Bucks, were a team whose goals centered on developing their young talent. Even if Kidd hasn’t been around this type of team in a long while, he knows exactly what this team is and where it’s going.
** – Side note: For what it’s worth, the coach tasked with trying to keep that Dallas team together by placating Kidd was last year’s top assistant, Jim Cleamons, who effectively got bumped out of a job this summer when Kidd arrived.